My good friend Josh Wolf was jailed yesterday by a federal judge for standing up for the right of a free press, something that is guaranteed by the First Amendment. It all started when Josh filmed a protest around the G8 summit last year and posted part of it up on his blog. The mainstream media saw this and reproduced it for their newscasts without Josh’s permission. So he sent them a bill and got paid.
Then one day the FBI knocks on Josh’s door and asks for the complete unedited version of the tape that Josh has. He refuses and is eventually subpoenaed before a federal grand jury investigating the burning of a SF police car during the protest. Josh is well within his rights as a journalist to not have to give up his source material. In fact, there is a shield law in California that guarantees this. Except that this is a federal case, and the feds don’t believe in shield laws or the First Amendment. The feds claim that since the SFPD gets some federal funding that the police car in question is federal property and it’s burning is a federal crime. This is such ridiculous bullshit I don’t know where to begin. Under normal circumstances, the local police department would and should be investigating this. Since the feds have taken on the case, the normal rules don’t apply. Josh and his lawyers believe this is a witch hunt and that the feds really couldn’t care less about the burning police car. Josh has stated that he has no footage of the burning car incident and even asked the judge to see for himself. He declined.
The bottom line is the video tape is Josh’s property. He should be under no obligation to be compelled to give up this private property. By doing so, all journalists are automatically deputized by the police to collect evidence for them. That’s not Josh’s job nor should it be.
I just donated $100 to Josh’s legal defense fund and I would encourage anyone reading this to give what they can. Josh is one of the nicest and most principled people I know. Not many people will go all the way to the mat on principle. Josh is a rare exception. Unfortunately, we need more rate exceptions as our freedoms slowly erode.
- Chronology of events leading up to Josh’s incarceration
- Video of Josh speaking about his case outside the courthouse
- Heated discussion on Scobleizer on the merits of this